The symbols of Young Goodman Brown

Question: Discuss the symbols of Young Goodman Brown.


In a broad sense, a symbol is anything that signifies something. In this sense, all words are symbols. In discussing literature, however, the term symbol is applied only to a word or phrase that signifies an object or event which in its turn signifies something or has a range of reference beyond itself. The short story “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) is an allegorical one replete with symbols.

The Forest

The Forest is a symbol of danger and uncertainty. The dark, wild, and unpredictable forest is frequently associated with fear, menace, and evil. On the other hand, the woods are full of uncertainty and surprises. The farther into the wilderness one goes, the further one is from the safety of town and neighbors. Young Goodman Brown takes a last look at the village and the destitute expression on his wife’s face before he turns the corner and begins his journey into the woods:

“He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind.”

The trees encroach ominously and surround him, trapping him and blocking his retreat, and perhaps concealing enemies. To put it differently, the forest is the symbol of the world where all human beings are attracted by ungodly attractions.

Serpent-Shaped Staff

Serpent-Shaped Staff is a symbol of evil and temptation, especially in the context of Christianity. The devil appeared as a serpent to allure Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Dark Figure’s staff twisted or wriggled like a snake is black that is a color certainly associated with evil. When Young Goodman Brown sees the stick, he doubts that it is a trick of the light until the stick moves again. The Dark Figure laughs so hard and asserts:

“his snake-like staff actually seemed to wriggle in sympathy.”

The Dark Figure also uses the staff like a magic wand throwing it at Goody Cloyse’s feet to make her disappear. Later he begins work on a new walking stick. When he touches the wood of a branch of the maple tree, it dries out instantly as if his touch can convey the heat of hell. The devil’s serpent-shaped staff is both a symbol and an instrument of evil.

Pink Ribbons

The pink ribbons on Faith’s cap stand for Puritan attire and the austere New England landscape and simple wooden houses of Salem. One Puritan idea was to purify the Church from Catholicism’s powerful and gilded influence. Similarly, the New England Puritans disdained the ornate fashions popular in Europe believing that clothing is nothing but a reflection of one’s station in life only.

On the surface Faith’s pink ribbons signifies her girlishness, youth, and beauty. On a deeper level, the pink ribbons reflect Faith’s innocence, goodness, and moral purity. Just as Young Goodman Brown can see Faith’s pink ribbons from a distance, she represents a sign of good faith and belief in a moral order. But as soon as Young Goodman Brown sees the pink ribbons in the branch of the tree hanging, he becomes maddened and exclaims in despair.

“My Faith is gone! There is no good on earth; sin is but a name. Come devil!”

Thus, it is vivid and transparent that Nathaniel Hawthorne has a clear purpose in ensuring before the reader through the ribbons of Faith that sweetness and innocence are about to be corrupted, and Brown is distraught.

The red light or fire

In literature, the fire signifies wrath. It has been done in British English literature by John Milton and William Blake just like Nathaniel Hawthorne has used in this very short story scattered fire in the forest. As Goodman Brown moves onward congregation, he sees the scattering fire on the stems of the trees. He also observes sundry strange and dangerous images, but the most dangerous scene is Young Goodman Brown himself with his bursting anger that signifies destruction.

“The fiend in his shape is less hideous, than when he rages in the breast of man.”

The symbolic significance of the characters

The characters of the short story “Young Goodman Brown” bear the testimony of symbolic significance. The Dark Figure is personified as the symbol of the devil who is completely out of human touch. Faith who is the new married wife of Young Goodman Brown reflects innocence and purity. All town folks of Salem symbolize puritan trust and purity. Young Goodman Brown is also an allegorical character of the weak moral public.

Besides, the actions and time duration are symbolic too. The three months of conjugal life symbolizes that innocence and evil cannot exist for long since Young Goodman Brown is very soon going to be a proselyte.


Now, therefore, it transparent like crystal water that Symbols are the soul of the story. They are brought to bear upon the immediate objective of the author. So, Hawthorne is a great genius symbolic artist.

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S Ridoy Kumar
S Ridoy Kumar
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